How many times have I heard it said that the churches must break out of their pastoral ways and instead be mission focussed? Congregations are endlessly encouraged towards mission planning. Vision statements abound and outreach is the measure of conviction and commitment. The dynamic quality of such action and intention is contrasted with what is assumed to be the more static nature of being pastoral. In times past, we are told, pastoral was appropriate, but no longer, now we exist in an environment where mission is everything. If pastoral refers to sustaining one another through the ups and downs of life – and I believe it does – the oppositional contrast seems absurd.
Don’t get me wrong here. I fully appreciate that ours is a highly secularized society where people of faith need to articulate well what it is to believe in God. Categories once assumed, are no longer. I heard recently of a child chided by its mother for using a sentence with the name ‘Jesus Christ’ in it. She assumed the term was swearing and had no idea that it referred to a real person, let alone the Son of God. A mission environment, indeed! Gone are the days when ‘Christians could be kind and assume that people would understand why,’ as a friend of mine puts it. But that is not to say that pastoral and missional are inimical to each other.
Preaching is about making the words of our scriptures speak with healing and hopeful power into our current circumstances. At its best it brings the reassurance that liberation from sin and its consequences is real, and that God’s kingdom is opening before us, if we but have the eyes of faith to perceive it. It offers a sustaining glimpse into eternity right here and now. Preaching is essentially anticipatory and expectant. At its heart is a declaration of ‘good news’ – the gospel that brings life to even that which is deadly. In these terms, preaching is always life-giving. And life-giving is always pastoral in that it offers words that make for reconciliation, compassion, encouragement, and transformation. Such words are the bedrock of mission since only souls who know for themselves their significance can confidently step out into a skeptical world.
Preaching as pastoral care gives its hearers the wherewithal to address the whole of life as God’s. That I believe is truly missional.